GENEVA (13 June 2019) – Human rights must be embedded in the design of our digital age, say UN experts* attending RightsCon 2019 in Tunis this week. 

As the conference on human rights in the digital age got underway, David Kaye, Michel Forst and Clément Voule, UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, the situation of human rights defenders, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association, said States must ensure that human rights are respected and protected in the digital arena.

“The continuously evolving technology and software that constructs and surrounds the space in which we conduct our digital lives must not be used by governments or companies to restrict fundamental freedoms, reduce civic space and target civil society actors, including human rights defenders,” they said.

The independent experts will discuss issues spanning surveillance technologies, content moderation and artistic freedom online, to press freedom, data protection and the ways freedom of association and assembly are exercised in the digital age.

In recent years, the experts have presented reports, sent numerous communications to various States across the globe and issued press releases addressing Internet shutdowns in times of elections or transition, targeted spyware being used against human rights defenders and civil society leaders and online smear campaigns against those promoting and protecting human rights.

“Digital space is not neutral space. At the levels of its physical architecture, regulation and use, different groups exert their interests over it. The principles of international human rights law, however, should be at the centre of its development. Human rights law provides standards which governments, companies and others engaged in the design and management of the infrastructure of our digital spaces should respect in their work.”

The experts reaffirm that human rights can contribute to ensuring that digital space allows people to express themselves, engage with one another and work through problems together, without fear of reprisals.

“Human rights must be at the forefront of our thinking when considering the present and the future of technology and the internet,” the Special Rapporteurs said.
The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association will present a report to the 41st session of the Human Rights Council on the exercise of the rights under his mandate in the digital age.


* Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expressionMr Clément Nyaletsossi VouleSpecial Rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

UN experts stress links between digital space and human rights at RightsCon, Tunis